Tag Archives: racism

Gamers: Let’s All Pick a Lane, Shall We?

Let's pick a lane. Where do we want to be?

We gamers have been under fire for ages.

We’re constantly told that our passion is juvenile at best; will turn children into godless murdering monsters at worst. Lately, the argument against our hobby has been more subtle and yet, more dismissive. Games are not art, and therefore not really worth taking seriously.

As a community, we have responded with a one-two punch against the nay-sayers: we are well informed with facts about our hobby (“Well, actually, the grand majority of games are rated ‘E’ for Everyone and so aren’t violent”) and, yes, sometimes we have been known to engage in all out on-line warfare (“This chick is an idiot! Let’s all give her book a one star rating on Amazon!”).

All in all: we defend, defend, defend. Everything is so fantastic in GamerWorld!

But I don’t think so.  I love gaming. I spend my free time writing this blog all about gaming. But I am not so in love with it that I’ve lost my reason.

We should be at the point where gamers must look at gaming with a more critical eye.  And sometimes that means we will have to acknowledge that the glass is not half full… in fact: some of the time, our glass is full of crap.  If we believe that games are art, as we’ve strenuously argued as of late, then we should be able to discuss the games at a higher level. To argue at a higher level means to acknowledge the flaws in our passion and in ourselves as members of this community.

Why is it that gamers tend to dismiss the homophobia, sexism and racism in our games and in our interactions with one another on-line? It’s as if the gamer culture thrives on being juvenile.  Tits or GTFO. See, we’re too cool and ironic to get worked up by mere political correctness.  If you can’t handle the homophobic, racist, sexist remarks on line well, then a) you are a whiny spineless worm — if this was 5 years ago I would add “hand in your man-card” — and b) get off of Xbox Live and let the REAL gamers play.

Perhaps there is also an ignorance, one born of privilege. A telling quote from N’Gai Croal and the Resident Evil 5 and racist imagery controversy:

The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort  of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don’t understand what you’re talking about and think that you’re sort of seeing race where nothing exists?

While gamers don’t have control over the racism or sexism in the games themselves, we can control the dynamic in on-line gaming. Yet, here we also see ridiculous behaviour. In a study, it was found that women received three times the negative comments in Halo 3 than their male counterparts. This sexism can`t be blamed on the industry but must be placed squarely on the shoulders of gamers. The best we have come up with is `mute, report, pwn, a strategy which places all of the responsability for policing on the shoulders of victims of these remarks, and not on the enforcement teams at Sony or Microsoft. It also absolves other gamers from the responsability of acting on behalf of fellow gamers. We have become passive on lookers while others are harassed.

Yet we pretend that this culture  of juvenile behaviour does not exist when we have to prove that gaming is a serious and adult past time.  And so we start pulling out “The average gamer is over 30 years old and so this is an adult medium.” argument.

So which is it? Are we cool and ironic and so un-PC, or are we adults playing games that, like all works, are flawed on a social level.

In the face of the big “-isms” I find that the reaction from gamers is to ridicule, and dismiss, but rarely to engage.  As a result, we give two very counter intuitive arguments in regards to gaming:

  1. Games are HIGH Art DAMMIT. You should come to appreciate the medium as I do.
  2. It’s just a game: STFU.  GTFO and stop overanalyzing.

No wonder outsiders are confused. We’re confused. We can’t keep saying that games are high art, and then when faced with the baser elements say “it’s just a game”. We gotta pick a lane, be honest with ourselves and be prepared, educated and brave enough to be critical of ourselves and our hobby.

Nope. No sexism in games. None. What. So. Ever.

These arguments are not new. There are many gaming journalists who have run up against these attitudes and tried to argue the same arguments that I am making now. I am not surprised that people whose job it is to question and engage the industry are asking these questions. I am surprised, however, that gamers haven’t acknowledged these questions more often and demanded better by now.

Maybe the confusion is with me.

If games are art, then we treat it like an artform and not a pretty picture. That means learning, questioning and being critical. We must start reading more critically. It means we identify and we start getting angry when we see sexism, racism and homophobia within a game. It means we each denounce this type of behaviour online instead of leaving the victim to defend him or herself alone. We question and question until we are satisfied.

Or if it’s just a game, then fine — don’t argue back when people say it’s just for kids and it’s irrelevant.

All I ask is that we start picking a lane.

The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don’t understand what you’re talking about and think that you’re sort of seeing race where nothing exists? residentevil5-03-281.jpg

Games for Non-Gamers- First Person Shooters (aka How Can I Get My Girlfriend to Play FPS)

I’m female, and often as a female gamer, I will get the question, “Yelling at Pixels, you reek of awesome. How can I get my girlfriend to play games?”  They say games – but often they really mean first person shooters. They secretly hope that somehow, their wife or girlfriend will pick up pokemon, love it, then graduate to Halo the next weekend. 

Halo 3

I'm usually the person NOT standing. Courtesy of IGN.com

 To that I say “Dude, you can’t make your girlfriend do or enjoy anything, because she is her own person with her own mind. I also don’t know your girlfriend. Women are not a monolith: we are not the same type of person with the same likes and dislikes because we all have a vagina. Some girls respond to the “shrink it and pink it” method of marketing, but others would puke if they played something cutesy.  In short: listen to what she wants to play in a game then figure it out for yourself.” 

This is the attitude I attempt to bring to this series. I try to say what type of person will possibly like the game, but I also caution that one must figure out what is working, what isn’t and then go from there.  This is going to be doubly true this time around as we take on perhaps the most difficult-to-enter gaming genre of them all: the first person shooter. 

Who May Enjoy First Person Shooters? 

Non-Gamers who have said the following: 

  • I really do want to try something fast, competitive and on-line.
  • I am fine with using a controller
  • I am fine with hearing some of the worst sexist, racist and juvenile language known to man
  • I am fine with people abusing me if I am not good at a game: this isn’t going to bother me
  • I like and want to be apart of a bigger online culture, this really appeals to me

And maybe/possibly: 

  • Alright, my significant other/ someone I care about/the entire gaming universe seems to have fun with this game: I just want to give it a try to see what is up.

What is it? First Person Shooters Defined for the Non-Gamer. 

The first person shooter (FPS) is a genre of game where “you” the character go around and… shoot things. The view-point is first person: i.e. it’s like you are looking through your own eyes onto the play area. Think Halo, Call of Duty and the like. In truth, I mentally include third person shooters, like Gears of War in this genre as well, since so much of the game mechanics are so similar. While all FPS shooters can be described this simply, they all have a slightly different feel. This slight difference in feel can make various FPS games feel much different from each other.

FPS have two main components. First is the single player campaign, where you play by yourself, or cooperatively with a partner, to save the day: just like any other game. However, it’s not really the single player campaign that makes the FPS as popular as it is, the multiplayer campaign tends to be the big draw. 

Multiplayer is where you play on-line with other people from around the world. You will need to have access to the on-line component: the game, an internet connection and if you are console gaming, access to the Playstation Network or XBox Live. 

Sometimes you can choose whatever game type you want, then go into a “lobby” of players waiting to start the match. Sometimes you can play with your own friends, and your leader will choose the game and the “rules” around the game. 

These “mini-games” come in many flavours, but can be broken into three big groups: 

  • Free-For-All (FFA) where you shoot every other player that you see. There are no teams.
  • Team Deathmatch (TDM) where you are put into one of two teams, you shoot anybody not on your team.
  • Objective based games – This is the gametype where you have something to “do.”  You may have to capture the other team’s flag (Capture the Flag: CTF) or shoot one target, or occupy a space. There is lots of variations here.

First Person Shooter Culture: (Warning: Here be Dragons) 

So far, everything sounds pretty good. Very fun, right? Why the trepidation? 

Multiplayer FPS has its own little subculture in gaming. This FPS subculture can be quite unforgiving, as there are many unwritten rules surrounding  how to play”properly.” Just for kicks, go into gaming forum and post “Camping: is it part of smart gameplay or is it cheating?”  Guaranteed, you will get pages upon pages of back and forth passion about one tiny aspect of this gaming subculture. Most of it will be heated to say the least. 

There are unwritten rules about what kind of “load out” to use, (some FPS let you have special abilities, some of these abilities are considered “cheap”) there are rules about what weapons to use (again, some are considered “cheap”). There are rules about how to play the game (i.e. ugh: don’t even get me started). No one agrees on these rules, and it’s rare to see a rational discussion about these things.

To top it all off, for some reason, FPSers can be both vocal and vulgar. If you are a woman you will hear more of it and will consist of anything from the benign (WHAT? You are a GIRL? REALLY!!) to full sexual harassment (guys will send you pictures of their boy-junk over Xbox Live – don’t open pictures from people who are not your friends).  I’m not even going to go into the racism. Let’s just say FPS can highlight the worst of the worst of gaming and on-line culture. 

Why Would Non-Gamers Enjoy This Game? 

GEEZZZZ Yelling at Pixels, if it sucks so much, why do it? 

Because – if you can fall in with a great room, with a great bunch of folks it is possibly the most fun you can have in gaming. The trick is to somehow get to that point where you know enough, know how to handle yourself where you can find these people. 

It also has the potential to be incredibly social. Remember that subculture thing? Well, not all of the folks who are part of that subculture are knuckle dragging neanderthals. Some of them are really cool people. And being part of a subculture is fun. Last time when I was on maternity leave, I got into first person shooters. I was at home all day with a baby, and once she was in bed, it was nice to play an adult game with adults and be silly, loud and yes, a bit vulgar amoungst friends. I enjoyed it, far, far more than this RPG fan ever thought she would have. 

Give it a chance. Just try it. Even if it’s just to see what it’s all about and to try something really different.

Advice for the Non-Gamer 

  • Play the single player campaign. It will guide you through how to play the game. Play it on easy if need be. The objective here is to get a feel for the game, to learn and to not get too frustrated. 
  • Think long term. The people you are playing with/against have *years* of in game experience. You will not be that good. It’s okay. Have fun anyway. You will improve over time. Learn to enjoy your own death sequences, because you will see them often.
  • Be a good team mate. Tell people they played a good game. Try as hard as you can. Pull out the rules you learned in Little League and Timbits Hockey. If people are jerks, don’t worry about it. Just leave the room, and find a new one. Mute, Report, (and theoretically) Pwn.
  • You can mess around with the controller settings. Try it… it may feel better if you switch the axis around or increase/decrease sensitivity.
  • Remember that not all FPS games are the same. There is a different feel to each one. You may like Halo, but you may LOVE Battlefield: Bad Company and vice versa. Rent new games, play the single player campaign until you find something that feels right.

Other Ways to Make the Game Fun

There is strength in numbers. Get a clan.

A clan is a group of like-minded gamers who play together. There are a wide variety of types: some are serious and hold try outs. Some are just incredibly social and are there to have fun.  You can go to the official website of the game you are playing and look in the forums. Let people know that you are just starting out though. Someone will take you under their wing. Just be a good team mate, try as hard as you can. If you let people know that you have not played before, they are not expecting you to help them, they KNOW that you are going to cost them games. But people like to show off their knowledge and some people even (gasp) are really nice and want to help out a junior gamer. 

  • Over 25 and NOT a jackass? Sign up with www.2old2play.com find “J-Cat” (ahem… that’s me) and ask for help. I’ll find you a clan. If you are a woman, over 25, join up with 2old2play, find me and say pretty please: I’ll let you into TheCabal: the woman’s clan on 2old2play.
  • YellingAtPixels Favorite Pick 

    For the newb, IF you have a crew of people to run with… I say that silly custom Halo 3 matches are the way to go. My first clan was a Halo clan. We played a game called “pinball” where the shields were high and the gravity was low. Grav hammers and rocket launchers only. The result? You run around whacking each other with these huge hammers, but when you do, your character goes flying backwards… very silly. Very fun. 

    If you are thinking a little more hard core: I preferred objective based games. Often people with say “FFA is the way to go for newbs.” I disagree: you are on your own too much. Where do you go? what do you DO? No clue. BUT If i’m told to take a position… well, maybe that is something I can do.  

    But keep in mind I rarely play FPS without a full room of folks I know. Too much hassle.

    Important Last Words 

    While games can be fun in and of themselves, it’s also important to have the right atmosphere. First Person Shooters are high-risk, high reward in terms of fun. It isn’t for the faint of heart… but give it a try. And let me know how it’s going!

    Rated M for Adolescent

    A while ago, Leigh Alexander wrote an excellent piece for Kotaku, about the extreme violence in games. In the article she writes:

    But as games get ever more immersive and lifelike, it starts to feel less like healthy play and more like unsettling aspirational fantasy to me. And as the economic competition around the genre heats up, the push for bigger-bloodier-more seems especially opportunistic and shameless. I don’t understand the continuing appeal; I don’t understand the unquestioning audience.

    What I find interesting is that in the debate afterwards, I heard the refrain “Yes, games are violent, but most games are not. Most games in, fact are rated ‘E’.”  An example from the fantastic Ngai Croal:

    Ngai Croal discusses L. Alexander's Kotaku Article

    And I completely agree. Most games are not the overly violent “blockbuster movie” type faire that have people wringing their hands with worry. The games industry is more akin to Pixar’s “Up” than to “Saw.”

    Here’s my problem. I’m an adult. I don’t necessarily want to play a kid’s game, but that doesn’t mean I want something mindless either. Where is our “Saving Private Ryan”?

    I would rather see more games that are rated Mature, not for their gratuitous sex or violence, but for their themes.  I see plenty macho space marines that are underdeveloped stock characters having to save humanity (again).  In see women in games portrayed as ice princesses, vixen-whores or beautiful commandos: none of which are realistic and are a bit insulting.  I see sex scenes straight out of a teenaged boy’s fantasies.  I see games where I blow stuff up real good. Hey, all great games and a ton of fun… but mature they are not.

    For me an example of a Rated M for Mature game, with mature themes was Fallout 3.  Tongue in cheek, laugh out loud funny, and disturbingly violent, yes; this game was also one of the most mature I’ve seen. You play as a survivor of the nuclear apocalypse, 100 years later.  Nothing grows. Raiders that roam the land leave dead bodies hanging in their territory as a warning. There are charred skeletons of children next to teddy bears and toy cars. Mailboxes contain letters of regret: there is no room at the fallout shelter for the homeowners, their bodies can be found inside holding each other. There are prostitutes, not the funny stereotyped BBWs of GTA4, but women who sell the only thing they have ownership of for a night of security. This is just the world, the trend continues as the main and side stories the state’s responsibilities to the citizenry and so on.

    There must be a reason for the lack of truely mature games. Maybe this is what the Rated M market wants and what sells?

    But as the gaming population ages, are we going to continue this trend? It’s one thing to be titillated at a lesbian sex scene with a Goddess, it’s another when the next day you have to take your little girl to little league. Shooting up baddies is fine, but after reading the news on-line… well you may not be as keen. 

    As gamers continue to take on the “games as art” debate to heart, will we see more critical analysis of the story, universe and themes that we see in games? Will we come to a point where we can debate racism, sexism in games intelligently, or will we simply say “it’s just a game” if it all becomes to difficult to defend?